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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas disputes national report on black male graduation rates



LARGO -- Black male students graduate from the Pinellas County Schools at a lower rate than any other large district in the nation, according to a new study.

Just 21 percent of black males graduated from the Pinellas County school district in 2008, compared to a national average of 47 percent, according to researchers from the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation for Public Education.

Palm Beach and Duval counties fared only slightly better for black males in the analysis, at 22 and 23 percent respectively, while Hillsborough graduated 35 percent of students in that group.

But Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen disputed the figures in a press conference Wednesday, saying the district has been successfully improving graduation rates in recent years.

"I don't think those are correct numbers," she said, pointing to district efforts aimed at boosting graduation rates.

Janssen pointed to several district programs, including the planned expansion of one designed to give traditionally underachieving students the tools they need to be successful in advanced classes.

"We are extremely focused on that, not only for black males, but for males in general," she said. "Not counting GEDs, our graduation rate continues to go up."

It's not the first time Florida graduation rates have raised alarm bells. In 2007, Tampa Bay officials disputed a report by Johns Hopkins University that labeled many Florida high schools "dropout factories."

Both the Hopkins and Schott researchers calculated the rate by finding the percentage of students who graduated from high school four years after they began as ninth graders. Local officials in 2007 said that wasn't fair, largely because it didn't count the significant number of students who move into GED or adult education courses but aren't counted as dropouts in Florida's formula.

And the issue shows no sign of going away. Last spring the state Department of Education signed onto a federal proposal that would no longer count such transfer students as graduates. According to an analysis by the Orlando Sentinel, such a change would result in immediate downgrades for Tampa Bay districts. Pinellas' overall graduation rate in 2009 would drop from 77.2 percent to 66.2 percent, and Hillsborough's would plummet from 82.2 percent to 67.8 percent.

What do you think? What's the fairest way to measure districts' graduation rates?

-- Tom Marshall and Rebecca Catalanello, Times Staff Writers

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 4:19pm]


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